One of the undeniable casualties of the modern technological era has been the demise of the car bumper sticker. Whilst there are still a few around, they are in the main, part of a dying breed. Where people once communicated with the world through pithy statements that were funny, profound or crass, through the stickers they fixed to their cars; in the new technological era people are much more likely to tell the world how they feel about life through posting on their Twitter feed from their mobile telephone.
The group e-mail of the latest funny joke or heart-warming story is suffering a similar fate. Where once people forwarded these kinds of e-mails to all of their friends, they are now more likely to convey them through their online Facebook page.
It was a comment on Facebook the other day, that focused my mind in preparation for this great Feast of All Saints, when we give thanks to God for all those who have sought his will in their lives, and who now worship him, and intercede for us his Church, in his heavenly presence. The comment was this: “When people act their worst you see who they truly are.” That comment did disturb me. It resonates with a kind of depressing view of life, that in the end people will show their true colours – and their true colours will be less disappointing.
Thankfully the Gospel of Jesus, the good news of God in him for us, says entirely the opposite, and that is what we celebrate most of all brothers and sisters on this Feast of all God’s Saints. Because seeing the world through God’s eyes, it is not when we act our worst that we are being who we truly are. It is when we act our best that we are being our true selves, made in the image of God. It may be that we are only at our best for a few brief moments in our entire lives, and the rest of the time we might be much more underwhelming, but nevertheless – it is in that brief moment of us truly being our best (not our worst) that our true selves are evident.
That is what we celebrate in the lives of the Saints: that they were able, through God’s grace, to be truly their best, as God had intended them to be. That does notmean that they were super-human, it doesn’t mean that they were born with gifts and skills that the rest of us do not possess. Neither does it mean that they were always at their best, but we recognise them as saints, as holy people, because at a particular moment in their lives, they were – through God’s grace – able to live out all that he intended for them.
Think of our own Patron Saint Peter. Think of all of his failings – his doubts, his denial of Jesus – those are not the reasons that thousands of churches are dedicated under his patronage around the world! It is not his worst moments that we remember, but we do know that they happened. It is his best moments – as the leader of the Early Church, ‘the rock’ on which the Church was built that we recognise in his sainthood.
If we were not feeling particularly optimistic about life when we got out of bed this morning, then we should feel entirely positive now, in this great Feast of All Saints; because if there is one lesson that we take away from this Festival to reflect on in the week ahead, it is simply this: that we are most truly ourselves in those moments when we live out God’s image in our lives.
There has been more talk of saints at the weekend Eucharists in our Church this year, than probably for many years. We have deliberately taken time this year not only to celebrate the Patronal Festival of Saint Peter, the Patron Saint of this Church, but also to celebrate the Patron Saints of the churches that were formerly part of this Parish and which have (for various reasons) been de-consecrated after years of faithful ministry. We have celebrated this year the witness of Saint Mark, Saint Barnabas, Saint Egwin and Saint Luke, remembering the ministries of those churches, and honouring the Patron Saints under whose dedication they ministered.
My hope is that we have been inspired by their examples – both in the stories of the lives of the saints, and in the stories of ordinary people like you and me who laboured in this Parish for God’s Kingdom; inspired by the best of who they were, and the example that they have left us.
The stained glass windows initiative is one way in which we are seeking to ensure that there is a permanent reminder of our thankfulness for these Christian communities. I am delighted to be able to announce that on Sunday 20th November, the Feast of Christ the King, the first two groups of windows in dedication to Saint Luke and Saint Barnabas, will be blessed at the 9.30 am Sung Mass; and that the next two groups of windows in dedication to St Mark and Saint Egwin have now been fully funded by generous donors and work will commence on their design and development early next year.
During this year, we have had the opportunity to focus on and celebrate the life, witness and faithfulness of those few saints whose names have been significant in this Parish; and today, with the Church around the world, we celebrate all the saints: both those who are named and recognised as saints, and those whose saintly life is known and remembered only by God.
On this Feast of All Saints, as I survey the long line of the saints who have been formally named in the Church’s calendar I find the diversity and variety of people, of these women and men, breathtaking in its range; all sorts and types and conditions – and therefore tremendously encouraging – a source of hope for us all; we who feebly struggle whilst they in glory shine.
This Feast precedes the solemnity of All Souls which we will gather for this evening, and on Tuesday evening, and reminds us that the Church has a kind of two tier system for all those who have gone before us and who are held within the life of Christ. There is the group who have been recognised by the Church as Saints, the ones we celebrate at this Mass, and then there are all those other people who have departed this life – and for whom we hope for salvation and eternal rest in Christ.
That distinction manifests itself most clearly in our Christian thinking, not only in this separation between All Saints Day and All Souls Day, but in the different attitudes which we have to prayer in relation to all of those who have died. We are conscious that the Saints join us in the one great prayer of the Church to God – we might for example have a sense that we pray with them, because we believe that they are alive and in the presence of God right now, offering worship and praying with us. We do not pray to them, but we somehow gain strength from praying with them. On the other hand, and in contrast, we ourselves remember in our prayers all those who have died, who the Church has not yet come to recognise as Saints.
That may mean that we remember in our prayers quite specifically people who we have known and loved who have died – regularly or on the anniversary of their deaths. This is a normal and proper part of our way of life, and an expression of our love for those who are no longer with us, and it is what we will be doing this evening at our service of thanksgiving and remembrance, and again on Tuesday evening at our Requiem Eucharist, and of course it is what we do throughout the year.
We do not pray for the Saints, because the Church teaches that they do not need our prayers – they are already in the eternal presence of God, but we do continue to pray for all those souls who we have loved, and who we long also will be in God’s presence as well.
On this great Feast Day we are reminded that we are surrounded by the Saints of God. Because they are in God’s presence now we do not think of them as being in the past, because they are alive with us in the present. And we draw strength from both the saints and the souls of the Church. Praying that we too may follow in their footsteps, open to God’s very best purposes for our lives, as we seek to live in his image.
May God be glorified in the witness of his Saints, and in us who run the race that is set before us.